Spark It or Scrap It: Is Emergen-C a Cold Knockout?

By , Elizabeth Lowry, Staff Writer
Whether it’s the kids waking up with coughs or your co-worker sneezing every five minutes at the desk next to yours, the winter months might have you feeling as though the germ-filled walls are closing in around you with no escape in sight. But wait--is there? What if you could keep that seemingly inevitable cold away away just by opening a little pouch full of powdery goodness, pouring the goodness into water and drinking it down?

Touting 1,000 mg of vitamin C per pouch, Emergen-C promises to deliver a one-two punch to your immune system. But does all that vitamin C really serve up a TKO to the common cold?

What Is Vitamin C?

Vitamin C is a term used to describe ascorbic acid. The essential nutrient is water-soluble and is found naturally in some foods. Once in our bodies, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant at the cellular level, protecting us from free radicals. It also helps the body make the protein collagen, which helps wounds heal, improves the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and helps the immune system work to ward off disease in the body.

Ingest too little vitamin C and you could end up with scurvy, while too much could leave you with intestinal discomfort. The recommended dosage of the vitamin is 90 mg for adult men and 75 mg for adult women. Emergen-C delivers more than 10 times the recommended dosage in one packet of powder and, as is common with dietary supplements, it didn't have to pass any safety or efficacy inspections before being sold on your grocer's shelves.

The Verdict

In 2013, the National Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed dozens of studies on using vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. While they didn't discover a magical cure-all, they might have stumbled on a sliver of hope—the use of Vitamin C supplements, when taken continuously or at the onset of a cold, reduces the duration of the cold by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children. The authors concluded more research was needed, however.

While there is no solid proof that vitamin-C supplements keep a cold at bay, there are ways to naturally strengthen your body in the war against germs.

To ensure that your immune system is doomsday-prepped during cold and flu season, fuel up with a variety of vitamins and nutrients and wash your hands regularly. Dark green foods such as kale, spinach and citrus fruits fill you up with vitamins A and C. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in salmon and low-fat dairy, can also help give your system a boost. Regular exercise keeps you healthy and can lessen any severe cold symptoms.

How do you keep colds and flu away? Tell us in the comments.

Join us each month as we sift through the so-called life hacks and miracle cures to get to the bottom of the latest buzzworthy trend. Get the facts and decide for yourself if you should Spark It or Scrap It